NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Final East Bracket After Wizards Beat PacersMay 21, 2021
The Eastern Conference playoff bracket is officially set after the Washington Wizards defeated the Indiana Pacers in the final play-in tournament game Thursday.
With the win, the Wizards secured the No. 8 seed in the bracket and a series with the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the first round.
Here's a look at the playoff bracket for the East as well as what to expect from the upcoming matchups:
2021 NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Bracket
No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards
No. 2 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics (Celtics def. Washington Wizards in play-in game)
No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 6 Miami Heat
No. 4 New York Knicks vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks
Previewing the Postseason
76ers vs. Wizards
Philadelphia's run to the top of the Eastern Conference is historic, having happened just one other time two decades ago. Led by Joel Embiid's 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, the 76ers were able to edge out dominant contenders in the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks for the title.
Backed by a contributing cast of Ben Simmons, who leads with 6.9 assists, and Tobias Harris, who has contributed 19.5 points per game, Philadelphia should have no trouble handling their first-round opponent.
The Wizards are still seeking their first win against Philadelphia this season, dropping all three regular-season outings in 2020-21. One of those wins came despite 60 points from Washington star Bradley Beal, who cemented his status as the league's second-leading scorer behind Golden State Warriors powerhouse Stephen Curry.
Coupled with Russell Westbrook, who is an all-around threat (proven by his becoming the all-time triple-double leader earlier this month), the Wizards are capable of putting up a fight against the the top team in the East.
Nets vs. Celtics
The Nets were going to dominate whoever they were matched up with in the postseason now that the team's Big Three—which only played seven regular-season games alongside each other—is healthy and ready to go.
If there was any hope to be had for Boston, it would have to come by way of their two All-Stars—Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown—going off night after night. But with Brown done for the year after wrist surgery, Tatum will face a tough test.
Kemba Walker could step up, having averaged 19.6 points per game, but Brown was also a star on the glass for Boston, and behind Tatum's 10 rebounds per game, the next most productive player on the boards behind Brown is Marcus Smart, who is good for 5.2.
Boston's bench—which averages 31.1 points per game—will be even more important in the series, and that's hindered by an injury Robert Williams suffered in the play-in game against the Wizards.
It's unlikely it will be able to hold a candle to a Nets rotation that averages 35.9 points per game behind an already dominant setup that also includes Blake Griffin and Joe Harris.
Bucks vs. Heat
The Milwaukee Bucks may have come away with the regular-season series win against the Heat 2-1, but the Heat were missing a crucial piece of their lineup for all three meetings.
Jimmy Butler, whose 21.5 points and 7.1 assists per game led the Heat, missed the sides' games in December with a sore ankle then was out due to a back injury when they met last weekend.
Luckily for the Heat, Butler said he'll play in the postseason series, and he's ready for it.
But the Bucks have plenty to counter with even when Butler returns to the lineup. Giannis Antetokounmpo put up strong numbers yet again, with 28.1 points per game to go with 11.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists, with Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez there to help out.
Knicks vs. Hawks
This matchup is made up of two teams that didn't look like they'd be here as the season got going, but both sides comfortably made the postseason and avoided the play-in tournament in a tight Eastern Conference.
The Hawks fired head coach Lloyd Pierce in February, when they were 14-20 and the No. 11 seed in the conference. But they rolled through the second half of the year with Nate McMillan at the helm, finishing at 41-31.
Once Bogdan Bogdanovic got healthy—missing a month-and-a-half with a knee fracture—he and Trae Young (25.3 points per game) combined to lead a Hawks squad that also has John Collins and Clint Capela in the mix.
As for the Knicks, they're making their first postseason appearance since 2012-13, a drought larger than Atlanta's, which dates back to the 2016-17 season. They'll have plenty of fan support for the historic affair.
Marc Stein @TheSteinLine
The Knicks will have the NBA's largest playoff crowds in the first round, based on @NYTSports research.<br><br>Six teams (Knicks, Nets, Jazz, Mavericks, Sixers, and Suns) are projected to have first-round crowds of 10,000-plus. Hawks (9,500), Heat (9,000) and Bucks (9,000) not far off.
Julius Randle has been managing the load for the Knicks, with 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and six assists per game to lead the team in all three categories.
That series could very likely come down to how well Randle is playing on any given night.
The Western Conference bracket will be finalized after Friday's play-in game between the No. 8 Golden State Warriors and No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies.